How Do We Build Safety on Teams?
Several years ago, Google set out to discover why some of its teams were great at being effective and some were not. It conducted a two-year study on more than 180 teams within its company. Surprisingly, Google discovered that who was on the team didn’t matter as much as how the team was structured. The results showed that the number one contributor to team effectiveness was something called psychological safety .
Psychological safety occurs when teammates feel they can make mistakes, take risks, and ask hard questions without fear of rejection. This takes trust and the willingness of team members to be vulnerable about their needs and concerns. Psychological safety asks, “Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?” 
Who is on a team matters less than how the team members interact, structure their work, and view their contributions.”
– Google Re:Work
How Do We Foster Psychological Safety on Our MDTs?
If psychological safety is the number one contributor to strong teams, how do we foster it on MDTs?

Adopt a Learning Frame
Approaching the work of a multidisciplinary team as a learning opportunity instead of a problem of execution fosters a psychologically safe climate.

  • Model Curiosity - Asking lots of questions and turning to the team for input promotes a safe space where learning is valued over having all the answers.
  • Demonstrate Vulnerability - There is perhaps no better indication of a psychologically safe team than one where it is okay to ask for help. In fact, simply asking for help has been shown to enhance psychological safety, and it often becomes contagious among team members.

Focus on Communication
Communication is perhaps our best means of cultivating a culture of psychological safety.

  • Start with Listening - Often we begin framing our response before a message has been fully shared. Encourage team members to listen toward understanding and not simply toward responding.
  • Ask Better Questions - Replace Yes or No questions, which can discourage conversation, with open-ended questions that invite participation from everyone. “Why did/didn't you?” questions often imply blame or judgment. Instead, try replacing them with a question like, “How might we?” that emphasizes partnership in seeking new answers and innovative ideas.
  • Give Better Answers - “No, because…” is a common response heard on multidisciplinary teams, and it doesn’t do much to build safety. “Can you remove the child, arrest the suspect, prosecute the case, etc.?” are all often followed by “No, because…”. Why not replace this with a more useful response such as “Yes, if…”? This subtle, but motivating, shift demonstrates openness and invites possibility. Adding “we” to make it “Yes, if we…” goes one step further by signaling an interest in collaboration and partnership.

Build Intentional Relationships
MDTs are diverse by necessity and design; the players will inherently be different. Positive interpersonal relationships contribute to a climate of safety, allowing cross-disciplinary information sharing and collaboration.

  • Take Off Your Hats - Helping team members get to know each other beyond just their assigned roles strengthens relationships. Consider hosting an annual retreat or a CAC Open House that invites people to share about themselves as people, not just the “hats” they wear.
  • Orient New Members - Turnover is a challenge for both the existing team and new members. A strong orientation process can help overcome the obstacles of transition. Consider adding a mentorship or shadowing program to your orientation process. A welcome meeting over coffee can be a great way to help new team members feel safe enough to ask questions about the culture, values, and unspoken rules of your MDT.
  • Regularly Build Connections - Quick check-ins at case review meetings help to continually build connections between team members. Asking the team to quickly share about something as simple as where they like to go on vacation can help to strengthen relationships and trust within a team.

For more information on Google’s team study and how to build psychological safety, delve into Google’s free toolkit, “Understanding Team Effectiveness”:
Learn More about Psychological Safety:
Recorded Webinar

In this webinar titled "Understanding Team Effectiveness - What MDTs Can Learn from Google," Greg Flett, Senior Program Manager for the Southern Regional, discusses the Google team study and how to apply it to MDTs.
Jerri Sites, Regional Training Specialist for the Southern Regional, wrote an article titled "Managing Conflict on MDTs through Promoting Psychological Safety" that appears in the Association of Prosecuting Attorney's (APA) Fall 2019 newsletter. Click here to view the complete newsletter.
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This publication is funded through grant #2016-CI-FX-K002 from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Neither the U.S. Department of Justice nor any of its components, operate, control, are responsible for, or necessarily endorse, this publication (including, without limitation, its content, technical infrastructure, and policies, and any services or tools provided).
Southern Regional CAC | #justtryingtohelpsomekids | Vol. 2 No. 11: Nov 2019